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  #1  
Old 17-04-2014, 13:42
blw blw is offline
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Default Carrier Operations / Doctrine: USN Compared with RN?

Anyone who's read much about WWII naval battles will be struck by some obvious differences between RN aircraft carrier operations and USN carrier operations. For example, in Operation Judgement (Taranto), Illustrious flew two waves, of 12 and 9 planes, respectively. For this operation, Illustrious's air groups were even augmented by some of Eagle's planes, since that carrier was unavailable at the moment. That's about as many planes in two waves as Enterprise or Hornet each flew in their dive bombing groups alone at Midway. (Bombing 6 and Scouting 6 each had 18 SBDs, I presume that VB-8 and VS-8 were roughly equivalent.) It's obvious and well known that the RN carriers had physically smaller hangers, but I suspect that there's much more at work than just a smaller hanger or flight capacity.

I think it's not sufficient to simply say that the American ships were bigger. Certainly by the time the BPF sailed with TF38/58 in early 1945 the ships were of generally similar size, and the Implacable class ships had nearly the capacity of the older USN fleet carriers. Implacable herself sailed for the Pacific in 1945 with 81 planes. Enterprise carried 72 planes at Leyte Gulf, while the Essex class seem to have had about 90 at that time.

I have an inkling that there were considerable differences between the operational doctrine of each navy's carrier fleets, but here my actual knowledge stops.

It seems that the USN would fuel and arm its strike planes in the hangar, then bring them all up onto the flight deck, massing them aft. From first to last, the strike would be flown off relatively quickly, with generally no involvement of the elevators. Similarly, when recovering a flight, USN planes would land and taxi forward and park forward. Only after recovery was complete did the planes return to the hangar.

I have the impression that the RN held each plane in the hangar until time for it to launch, at which time it would be brought up and sent out. Upon return, planes would land and be taken below one at a time, before another plane landed. While operationally much slower, such a procedure would avoid the dangers of having a landing plane miss the arresting wires and crash into the deck park forward, as happened more than once on USN ships. It would also have the advantage of protecting the planes in the armored hangar, rather than having them out in the open.

Are my impressions of the RN operations correct? (Looking at photos of American CVs in action, the deck parks are very obvious, even in operation, so I'm confident of that part. As merely one example of many, the famous shots of the B-25's taking off from Hornet illustrate this, but there are many, many others.) I cannot remember a single photo of a RN carrier with many planes on deck, except when the ship was ferrying planes to reinforce bases (e.g., Furious bringing Spitfires to Malta).

If the procedures were quite different, as I believe they were, did they change at all when the BPF operated with the USN?

Were there other operational differences? Were these driven by considerations such as frequent operation in heavier seas in the North Atlantic vs the relatively less stormy Pacific? (That seems to be a red herring to me, since the USN also had to expect to fight in the Atlantic too. Moreover, the Pacific seems quite capable of throwing up plenty of heavy weather also.)

To what degree did those doctrinal differences and preferences affect the designed capacity of the ships, rather than the other way around (as is usually assumed)?

Thoughts? References to other material?
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Old 17-04-2014, 14:02
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Default Re: Carrier Operations / Doctrine: USN compared with RN?

Hmm... one thing that I just remembered is that Cunningham seems to have had very little hesitation in flying the Taranto raids at night. The crews were clearly trained for that, including landing at night. In the Marianas, I have the distinct impression that the fleet really didn't expect to recover a strike at night, and may not have been trained for that. I don't seem to recall too much chaos of that sort once Mitscher said to "Damn the torpedos" - but perhaps that is simply overwhelmed by the problems the strike had just finding the fleet at the edge of its fuel capacity.

Certainly by about the time of Leyte Gulf, there were at least two and possibly three carriers specifically assigned to carry night fighter groups.

Is or was this a large difference in USN/RN approach to fleet air operations?
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Old 17-04-2014, 14:51
jainso31 jainso31 is offline
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Default Re: Carrier Operations / Doctrine: USN compared with RN?

Now this is a HOT ONE Brian; but here goes to set out some generalities at the outset; before coming onto hardware details:-

By 1944 the role of the Royal Navy had developed along three distinct paths.
a)The Fleet Carriers was to be used as a strike weapon.and embarking a growing proportion of fighters in relation to attack aircraft both to escort strike aircraft ie bombers and torpedo bombers and to provide an aerial defence for the carrier itself.The Fleet carrier previous to 1944 was a maid of all work in the Med.where convoy protection was paramount and it's usage was certainly not akin to the USN doctrine
b)The trade protection carriers (CVE's) were most useful in the Atlantic,particularly with the introduction of HF/DF,they became part of a semi independent unit (Hunter/Killer Group) that could carry the war to the Uboat,by a scout pinpointing the Uboat's position and range from the attack aircraft awaiting aboard.
C)Older carriers would be used for ferrying replacement aircraft to battle zones when sufficient US CVE's were available-this work devolved on them.

I am of the opinion that the Pacific War saw USN carriers usage developed along somewhat similar lines,although with very different priorities.The strike (Fleet) carrier was the premier weapon and it's function throughout the Pacific Campaign was paramount,ASW was rather less pressing in the Pacific theatre and there was mch less emphasis on convoy protection;due in the main to the shorter distances that any Us convoys had to make.However aircraft transports assumed growing importance as the westward advance caused resupply trips to become longer.
A considerable contrast was without doubt the number of ships and aircraft involved.The doctrine of mass air strikes in the Pacific evolved further from 1943 onwards ie. the the emergence of Task Forces and Task Groups.
I will stop at that and await response.

jainso31

Last edited by jainso31 : 17-04-2014 at 18:06.
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Old 17-04-2014, 18:20
jainso31 jainso31 is offline
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Default Re: Carrier Operations / Doctrine: USN compared with RN?

See the section Armored decks at the following link
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flight_deck

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Old 18-04-2014, 14:08
jainso31 jainso31 is offline
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Default Re: Carrier Operations / Doctrine: USN compared with RN?

Sea/Air power was the key to defeating the Japanese in the Pacific and it was proved to be the final arbiter of the Japanese downfall.Unlike the British,the Americans were quick to learn from their initial mistakes and they had the resources to quickly put the lessons learned into practice on a large scale.Only in their continued use of wooden flight decks did the Americans show a questionable lack of understanding in my opinion,

The British lack of defending aircraft and significant lack of defensive weaponry on ships at sea,resulted in ships versus dive bombers long after it was clearly shown to be fatal. Thus Norway,Dunkirk and Crete (1940-1942) continued to lose heavily in destroyers and cruisers all the while,even in 1943 were destroyers sent into the Aegean without air cover and having to fight off large numbers of Luftwaffe bombers.

In the 1938/39 naval estimates included a provision for six new carriers Illustrious,Formidable,Victorious ,Indomitable,Indefatigable and Implacable-they were two years late to meet the outset of WW2.This too was a legacy of neglect and indecision-the wasted years of inter service wrangling ensured that the Royal Navy did not have the best of naval aircraft to exercise the sea power- it was desperately to need.

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Old 18-04-2014, 14:46
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Default Re: Carrier Operations / Doctrine: USN compared with RN?

The RN seems to have begun the war without strong emphasis on carrying fighters. (Not that they had no fighters, just not to the emphasis of the USN or IJN.) Was that due to the lack of an available effective fighter, or for some doctrinal mindset? (Or something else?)

At any rate, by the time the BPF sailed, the RN ships were of generally comparable capacity to the big USN fleet carriers, and it's clear that in the Pacific environment the British sailed with heavy fighter air cover, just as both the USN and IJN did to the best of their ability.

For some reason, I also have the impression that the RN didn't normally fly CAP, at least early in the war. That might be incorrect, though. Certainly Glorious had no planes in the air when she met her doom in the form of the KM battlecruisers - surely the planes would have noticed the two giants well before they got into gun range. But perhaps Glorious was merely a commander not thinking clearly? Scouting seems to have been a function of carrier-based aircraft in everyone's thinking.

Am I off base here?
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Old 18-04-2014, 14:56
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Default Re: Carrier Operations / Doctrine: USN compared with RN?

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... Royal Navy aircraft carriers did not use a permanent deck park until approximately 1943 ... The 23,000 ton British Illustrious-class had a hangar capacity for 36 Swordfish sized aircraft
This is pretty much the crux of the original question. If Illustrious had capacity for 36 planes in the hangar, and she took aboard a few of Eagle's for Operation Judgement, why would the strikes be only 12 and then 9 planes? Even though there would have been some Fulmars in the complement, for a surprise attack designed to cripple the Italian fleet, at least the first strike would have been maximized. Nobody ever called Cunningham a fool, so there had to be some compelling reason why no more than a third and probably only a quarter of the available planes flew the mission. From my armchair, I would have even done some special ops for such an operation - perhaps using a deck park just this operation, just to double the strike.

But my guess is that this isn't a matter of hangar capacity, since it certainly appears that there were plenty more planes aboard the ship. My suspicion is that the one-at-a-time operations were so slow that large strikes could not be assembled, since the first off the deck would have to circle around for a considerable period of time while the rest of the force got out of the hangar and into the air.

The strikes against Bismarck and Tirpitz were of comparable size.
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Old 18-04-2014, 15:07
jainso31 jainso31 is offline
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Default Re: Carrier Operations / Doctrine: USN compared with RN?

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The RN seems to have begun the war without strong emphasis on carrying fighters. (Not that they had no fighters, just not to the emphasis of the USN or IJN.) Was that due to the lack of an available effective fighter, or for some doctrinal mindset? (Or something else?)

At any rate, by the time the BPF sailed, the RN ships were of generally comparable capacity to the big USN fleet carriers, and it's clear that in the Pacific environment the British sailed with heavy fighter air cover, just as both the USN and IJN did to the best of their ability.

For some reason, I also have the impression that the RN didn't normally fly CAP, at least early in the war. That might be incorrect, though. Certainly Glorious had no planes in the air when she met her doom in the form of the KM battlecruisers - surely the planes would have noticed the two giants well before they got into gun range. But perhaps Glorious was merely a commander not thinking clearly? Scouting seems to have been a function of carrier-based aircraft in everyone's thinking.

Am I off base here?
Naval aircraft had for some years before and into WW2 been contracted out to the Fairey and Blackburn Aircraft Coy's.which produced pretty wretched aircraft
There was the Fairey Fulmar, an offshoot of the obsolete Fairey Battle-a two seat fighter.The Blackburn Skua a fixed undercarriage dive bomber come fighter.
The BPF sailed with the Fairy Firefly a two seat variant of the Fulmar-not much better and Supermarine Seafire,a variant of the Spitfire-quite unsuitable for deckmlanding due to it's flimsy undercarriage.Thankfully they were Lend Leased Grumman Hellcat and Chance Vought Corsairs.
You are correct we did not fly CAP; but quickly followed the American practice and used the the low range Seafire for this purpose but lost more to deck landings than to enemy action.
Glorious had a captain who would not be gain said and he was underway to have his Air Commander court martialled-he had special permission to leave the battle scene-the mind boggles at the thought!!
No you are not off base -just keep going

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Old 18-04-2014, 17:04
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Default Re: Carrier Operations / Doctrine: USN compared with RN?

Odd that there was no CAP practice. I can easily explain that operating in the Atlantic, where enemy aircraft were often not a factor. But in the Med, it would seem that aircraft were a constant threat. Accordingly a constant CAP would seem to be "obvious." Surely even if the RN didn't do it at first, some American observers would have suggested it? For that matter, as noted, ABC was a bright and aggressive commander, so it surprises me that he or his staff didn't say "Just Do It" or similar after a few weeks of that... so there must have been a reason.
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Old 18-04-2014, 17:30
jainso31 jainso31 is offline
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Default Re: Carrier Operations / Doctrine: USN compared with RN?

Quote me
"You are correct we did not fly CAP until the Pacific theatre; but quickly followed the American practice in the Pacific and used the the short range Seafire for this purpose; but lost more to deck landings than to enemy action".

Adm Cunningham CinC Med. had only one aircraft carrier in his fleet-HMS Eagle but this ship was used for Convoy Escort -flying off Hawker Sea Hurricanes to attack Axis bombers- as opposed to maintaining a CAP over the the Eagle itself. Does this answer your questions???

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Old 18-04-2014, 17:47
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Default Re: Carrier Operations / Doctrine: USN compared with RN?

I don't know If I'd say the US Idea of no armored flight decks was bad - because without an armored flight deck they could carry more planes, more CAP, less chance of a strike plane getting through.

I think the US doctrine worked fine if with a large carrier task force. Plus the US had the best AA of the war which helped as well.

For having unarmoured flight decks, the US actually lost few carriers to enemy strike aircraft. And we should also rule out those that were sunk by torpedoes predominantly - an armored flight deck provides no protection against these.

Here is just a thought on the less massed strike tactics of the UK early in the war.

The UK carrier based planes seemed to have less range than their US or Japanese counterparts.

Part of the issue with launching a mass strike is the planes must wait for the planes to all be airborne before heading to the target. Which cuts down the range of these planes, and if already having poor range it's a problem.

Lets look at the Seafire for example. At a cruising speed of about 218 miles per hour, it has around 2.5 hours in the air. Lets give it a good 45 minutes for time over target and time above carrier waiting to land. I actually think this is rather generous to the flight time, plus when in air to air combat the plane won't be operating at the gas saving cruising speed but at far more gas consuming top end performance. Now throw in a half hour or so while the first plane waits til the last one is ready to go on launch.

So we have reduced the flight time to and from target from 2.5 hours to 1.25 hours. That's 270 miles, or 135 each way.

By Comparison, a Hellcat had an endurance of about 9.65 hours in the air, with a cruise of 200 mph. So if the Hellcat uses 1.25 hours while forming up, over target and landing, it still can get out and back to a target 840 miles away. And the Japanese Zero had better range than a Hellcat.

Also bear in mind a vessel or group of vessels are not stationary targets - one can take a very good guess of where they should be, but this may or may not be accurate. There are many times when carrier planes flew to where a target should have been - and the had to fly longer to find the target, or maybe never even find the target.

I think I recall reading somewhere that a "wave" of US planes is how many they could have on deck and launch sucessfully without having to bring additional planes up from the hangar. This maybe the definition of a Japanese wave as well. Trying to launch anymore would result in too much time waiting for the planes launched first I would guess.
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Old 18-04-2014, 17:50
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Default Re: Carrier Operations / Doctrine: USN compared with RN?

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Naval aircraft had for some years before and into WW2 been contracted out to the Fairey and Blackburn Aircraft Coy's.which produced pretty wretched aircraft

jainso31
Jim:

Sorry - couldn't let this comment go unanswered!

While I agree that the majority of Fairey and Blackburn aircraft were not exactly world-beaters, one must remember the iconic Fairey Swordfish - obsolescent (if not obsolete!) at the beginning of the war - which played a huge role in such actions as the sinking of Bismarck and the attack on the Italian fleet at Taranto!

Truly a remarkable aircraft, flown by some very brave men.
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Old 18-04-2014, 19:29
jainso31 jainso31 is offline
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Default Re: Carrier Operations / Doctrine: USN compared with RN?

Accept what you say Tim; but I was referring to FIGHTER aircraft only.

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Old 18-04-2014, 20:04
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Accept what you say Tim; but I was referring to FIGHTER aircraft only.

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OK Jim - just didn't want to see the "Stringbag" tarred with the same brush as some of her less successful stablemates!
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Old 18-04-2014, 20:21
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Default Re: Carrier Operations / Doctrine: USN compared with RN?

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Accept what you say Tim; but I was referring to FIGHTER aircraft only.

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Fair's fair, Jim-- the blame for the lack of a satisfactory British naval fighter throughout the Second World War rests primarily with Whitehall: the design teams at Faireys and Blackburns were only doing their best, given the overly-demanding design specifications issued by the Air Ministry. Both companies produced some very good aircraft both before and after the war. And BTW the Skua had retractable undercarriage (it SHOULD have had the double-row Bristol Hercules engine instead of the Perseus: then it would have been a paralyser of an aircraft! Coulda, shoulda, woulda...)
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Old 18-04-2014, 20:35
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I don't know If I'd say the US Idea of no armored flight decks was bad - because without an armored flight deck they could carry more planes, more CAP, less chance of a strike plane getting through.
...
Trying to launch anymore would result in too much time waiting for the planes launched first I would guess.
Bear in mind the different operational roles of the two Navies: the USN had concentrated it main strength to face Japan across the Pacific since the early 1920's (and there is a reason it's called the PACIFIC!) The RN had to divide its strength between three theaters: North Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Far East, with considerably variation in weather conditions; in particular, in the North Atlantic and the Norwegian Sea the RN was required to operate carrier aircraft in weather conditions which were unheard of for the USN: that required compromises in airframe design.
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Old 18-04-2014, 20:51
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The RN had to divide its strength between three theaters: North Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Far East, with considerably variation in weather conditions;
Biggest thing I see here - the UK was not going in general to have large carrier task forces like the US was going to. So the carrier is not going to have the type of CAP a "fleet" carrier would have operating as a task force. So for the type of warfare the RN was going to see, I can see where this made sense. In prevents a GP bomb hitting at the right time from crippling or sinking the carrier.
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Old 19-04-2014, 01:35
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Biggest thing I see here - the UK was not going in general to have large carrier task forces like the US was going to. So the carrier is not going to have the type of CAP a "fleet" carrier would have operating as a task force. So for the type of warfare the RN was going to see, I can see where this made sense. In prevents a GP bomb hitting at the right time from crippling or sinking the carrier.
In terms of numbers, the RN had more carriers than the USN until quite late in the war: In September 1939 the RN had 7 operational carriers (ARGUS, HERMES, EAGLE, COURAGEOUS, GLORIOUS, FURIOUS and ARK ROYAL) as opposed to the USN's 5 (SARATOGA, LEXINGTON, RANGER, ENTERPRISE and YORKTOWN); up to the end of 1942 the RN commissioned four more (ILLUSTRIOUS, VICTORIOUS, FORMIDABLE, INDOMITABLE) compared with two for the USN (WASP and HORNET); while in the same period, the RN lost 5 and the Americans 4, (so the RN ahead by 3 in this rather questionable calculus). Everything changed at the end of 1942 when deliveries of the ESSEX class started; Britain could not hope to compete after American naval expansion kicked into high gear.

And yet it was very rare to find two or more British carriers operating together during that time: one or two of the more important Malta convoys; Somerville "bravely running away" from Nagumo off Ceylon; the invasion of Madagasgar. For the Americans (and for the IJN for that matter), multi-carrier task forces seem to have been the norm. But I think it is a question of strategy rather than doctrine: Britain had global commitments over which her forces had to spread out thinly: one for the Home Fleet, one for the Med, one for the East, one at Gib, etc.. The USN, on the other hand, had only to commit token forces to the Atlantic; and could concentrate in the Pacific.

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Old 19-04-2014, 03:09
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Yeah, I did not mean specifically in terms of numbers of carriers, Gwyrosydd, but in their deployment in task forces. Britain had a lot of various interests to protect, while the US was set up better for large task forces.
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Old 19-04-2014, 08:30
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Quote Gwyrosydd
"the blame for the lack of a satisfactory British naval fighter throughout the Second World War rests primarily with Whitehall: the design teams at Faireys and Blackburns were only doing their best, given the overly-demanding design specifications issued by the Air Ministry. Both companies produced some very good aircraft"

"The design,development and delivery of new and battleworthy carrier aircraft were bottlenecked by the backwardness and incompetence of the manufacturers.
The two principle firms allocated to supplying the FAA,Blackburn and Fairey were inefficient even by the standards then generally prevailing in this industry
.As late as November 1937 Blackburn could not promise that new deliveries of the Skua (spec.issued in 1934) would reach 16/month by December 1938 and even the Air Ministry reported that the Director of Aircraft Production "has no confidence in this programme and is unable to forecast deliveries at present".
A stop gap ordered off the drawing board from Fairey- the Fulmar,proved an equal disaster in production and performance-it being a slightly modified obsolescent Battle,which in 1940 was well behind Japanese and American standards.And Fairey made no less of a muddle of the design,development and delivery of the FAA's designated replacement for it's sturdy but out dated biplane the Swordfish.The new Albacore ordered in May 1937,entered service as a Swordfish with a covered cockpit in 1941",Thereafter followed the Barracuda-a bizarre looking contraption-not particularly loved by it's pilots.
Sourced from Correlli Barnett's "Engage The Enemy More Closely"

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Old 19-04-2014, 09:15
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The USN carriers Wasp and Hornet were lost in September and October 1942 respectively-this left the US Pacific Fleet with only two Fleet carriers ie. Enterprise and Saratoga; hence the loan of HMS Victorious aka Robin.The new Essex Class carriers started to arrive in theatre in early 1943-the first being the Essex which arrived in the Pacific in May 1943.

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Old 19-04-2014, 10:44
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Quote Gwyrosydd
"the blame for the lack of a satisfactory British naval fighter throughout the Second World War rests primarily with Whitehall: the design teams at Faireys and Blackburns were only doing their best, given the overly-demanding design specifications issued by the Air Ministry. Both companies produced some very good aircraft"

The design,development and delivery of new and battleworthy carrier aircraft were bottlenecked by the backwardness and incompetence of the manufacturers.
The two principle firms allocated to supplying the FAA,Blackburn and Fairey were inefficient even by the standards then generally prevailing in this industry
.As late as November 1937 Blackburn could not promise that new deliveries of the Skua (spec.issued in 1934) would reach 16/month by December 1938 and even the Air Ministry reported that the Director of Aircraft Production "has no confidence in this programme and is unable to forecast deliveries at present".
A stop gap ordered off the drawing board from Fairey- the Fulmar,proved an equal disaster in production and performance-it being a slightly modified obsolescent Battle,which in 1940 was well behind Japanese and American standards.And Fairey made no less of a muddle of the design,development and delivery of the FAA's designated replacement for it's sturdy but out dated biplane the Swordfish.The new Albacore ordered in May 1937,entered service as a Swordfish with a covered cockpit in 1941,Thereafter followed the Barracuda-a bizarre looking contraption-not particularly loved by it's pilots.
Sourced from Correlli Barnett's "Engage The Enemy More Closely"

jainso31
Jim--"The design,development and delivery of new and battleworthy carrier aircraft were bottlenecked by the backwardness and incompetence of the manufacturers." --can you give the page reference for this quote: Engage The Enemy More Closely is a big book.

The Fairey Flycatcher and the Fairey IIIF were, in their day (the mid-20's), as good as any comparable types anywhere in the world, as were Blackburn's line of torpedo bombers (Dart, Ripon, Baffin); postwar, the Fairey Delta II was the first aircraft to exceed 1000 mph (and was to have been the basis of a supersonic fighter, but the project was cancelled under the Sandys review), and the Blackburn Buccaneer was a celebrated success which served in the front line for 30 years. In other words, the design staffs of both companies were competent engineers capable of producing first rate aircraft; the problem was the Air Ministry and their specifications (indeed, many of the best British types of WWII - Spitfire, Mosquito, Lancaster- originated as private ventures rather than as responses to Specifications). Mr. Barnett, as always, is entitled to his opinion about the companies' production facilities -- so much of British industry had issues in that regard, then as now (equally, I am entitled to my opinion of Mr Barnett ).
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Old 19-04-2014, 10:45
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Originally Posted by Scatari View Post
OK Jim - just didn't want to see the "Stringbag" tarred with the same brush as some of her less successful stablemates!
Indeed, the Swordfish was amazingly successful, all things considered.
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Old 19-04-2014, 10:47
blw blw is offline
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Default Re: Carrier Operations / Doctrine: USN compared with RN?

Any comments on one-at-a-time from the hangar vs. a large deck park?
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Old 19-04-2014, 11:46
jainso31 jainso31 is offline
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Default Re: Carrier Operations / Doctrine: USN compared with RN?

The down side of the RN carriers hanger parking was,of course;a significant reduction in Air Complement per carrier; but it proved safer in Kamikaze attacks.The USN Essex Class with their deck parks were prime targets for the Kamikaze,which could prove near fatal eg.USS Franklin was seriously damaged and lost 800 crew members. However their Air Complement was considerably larger and the American capacity to replace their ships outweighed the risks.

NB I note the unsigned response to the British FAA aircraft critique!!=pp40/41and it did refer only to aircraft in use during WW2

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Last edited by jainso31 : 19-04-2014 at 13:07.
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